tv Tavis Smiley WHUT November 2, 2010 6:00pm-6:30pm EST
tavis: good evening from los angeles. voters in all 50 states head to the polls, of course, on tuesday for what has become the most anticipated and most expensive midterm election in years. and so first up tonight, a final preview of the key races around the country, with veteran political analyst ron brownstein. he serves as political director and columnist for the national journal d. also tonight acres claimed haitian-born writer here. following the success of books like, brother, i'm dying," she's out with her latest text. we'll also get her thoughts on the latest developments in haiti, of course including the deadly outbreak of cholera. we're glad you joined us with ron brownstein and edwidge bant
cat coming up. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference. >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] >> nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: in just a matter of hours, polls will open on the east coast and then around the country for the most anticipated and expensive
midterm elections in a generation. for a last look now at the political landscape on this election eve, pleased to be joined by ron brownstein. he joins us tonight from washington. ron, as always, good to have you back on this program, sir. >> good to be here. tavis: congratulation on the national journal. a lot of us saw that wonderful piece about the transformation of the journal in "the times" the other day. let me ask you a quick question about how the coferingse of these election has changed -- coferingse of these elections has changed and what prompts these kinds of moves where the journal is concerned. >> what we're trying to do is occupy the intersection of policy and politics. we want to be sophisticated and kind of knowing about why things happen or don't in washington. but also serious about the what. too much i think of political roveragee now is almost like sports coverage. we've been reduced to kind of play by play commentators, commenting on each pitch, each decision by the manager, without really getting much mow
tus to -- focus to what is at stake in these elections and congressional deliberations. the national journal has been a publication oriented toward decision makers in washington. now we want to have a much broader public focus with our website where we bring to bear our signature, i think, which has been kind of an understanding of how policy and politics intersent. but infuse it with a little more urgency, a little more immediacy and a little more determination to help shape the national debate. tavis: the journal just had a big interview with president obama. of course on the eve of these midterm elections, and i found your piece recently to be a bit fascinating. compare and contract for me bill clinton on the eve of the midterms, when he got spanked by the republicans. his attitude, i had dess mean -- demeanor and that of president obama on the eve what have some think might be a spanking that he takes by republicans. >> yeah. coincidentally i had interviewed president clinton on the sunday before the 1994 elections, which brought the republicans the control of both the house and the senate and of course with one of my
colleagues we intervieweded president clinton, i'm sorry, president obama last week in the oval office for this inaugural issue of our relaunch magazine. and the contrast really could not have been more stark, with president clinton you could feel almost physically the weight of the repudiation settling on him and he kind of was agonizing over and over about how he got himself in this position. he kind of alternated between being furious at what he thought was the blind obstructionism and partisanism of the republican opposition but also going over what he felt were his own second decisions and lamenting how he had kind of lost the thread of connection with voters. there was almost none of that in the conversation we had about 10 days ago with president obama. he didn't seem shell shocked and he didn't seem defiant. seemed very matter of fact. it was clear that he is beginning to think in a concrete way about how he will try to navigate through washington with a lot more republicans in it. it wasn't really a sense of second guessing. there was a little bit of,
well, i should have communicated better, but events were cascading on me too quickly, really, to give the time that was needed to explain some of these decisions. it was very different. not that level of self-doubt, agonizing and interspex. that has been a great strength of his. but you almost wonder if it can be carried to a fault. a president, if in fact tomorrow goes as badly as it might for democrats, it may require a little more rethinking of their fundamental course. >> to your point now, there is history that suggests namely history with regard to bill clinton that suggests that things can get done with a divided government because it forces the president to the middle, republicans can no longer be as they've been called obstructionists. you can't just say no to everything if you're in the leadership. you got to put something forward. so why is at that that we should not believe that divided government might actually yield some good public policy? >> it might yield a few.
president obama, much like president clinton said to me in 1994, almost echoed each other 's words with great power comes great responsibility. quoting spiderman. basically what he's saying, basically what he said is that republicans, if they do win a chamber or both chambers, which is not outside the realm of possibility, will have an obligation to be more constructive and that was his argument. they'll have to put forward solutions. he identified a few areas where he thought he might be able to reach agreement with him. particularly education, infrastructure, the transportation bill and some small scale bite-sized energy initiatives. but he also made clear in a thank on some of the bigger issues, extending the bush tax cu for all earners, revert efforts to repeal the health care bill and efforts to reopen the idea of creating private accounts, diverting part of the payroll tax into creating private accounts for social security, he was going to draw a line. i thought it was also an ominous sign that really about almost exactly the same time that we were talking to
president obama, my new colleague, formerly of fox, now covering congress for us, was talking to mitch mcconnell and he said that job one for a republican congress or senate or a stronger republican minority is going to be to make president obama a one-term president. that implies a certain amount of limitations on how far they want too to go in making deals with him. the other thing that, as you're well aware, a lot of these republicans who win tomorrow are not going to feel as though they were sent here either to defer to the republican leadership or to make deals with president obama. they're going to be very leery. there's a big portion of that very conservative elect rat that is driving some -- electorate who are going to feel that anything president obama signs is something that republicans shouldn't accept and they're going to be new members in both the house and the senate who are going to be reluctant to cross that sentiment. >> i think i can make this argument. you tell me if i'm walking on egg shells here or if i'm completely in left field.
>> sure. tavis: i think -- i'm thinking through this out loud on national television. i think i believe there's a difference between repudiation and referendum. the president could in fact be repudiated tomorrow at the polls, that is to say republicans could take back both houses of congress. and it not necessarily be a referendum on him. am i right about the fact thath referendum necessarily something else? >> well, i have to think through the distinction you're making there. the one thing we know from history is that in these big wave elections, 1994 in the republican direction, 2006 in the democratic direction, there is a pretty strong correlation between the way people feel about the president, how they vote, at least in the house races, and to a large extent the senate races as well. although they can get some more independence. in 1994, just over 80% of the people who disapproved of president clinton voted republican and in 2006 just
over 80% of the people who disapproved of president bush voted democratic. according to the exit polls. and i think you're going to see a strong correlation. i think part of the challenge that obama is going to face after this election, and i have been struck by this, i don't know if you have as well, many democratic candidates have simply given up the effort of trying to defend and explain what they have done over the last two years. and have really shifted their efforts almost entirely to trying to disqualify their republican opponents. and i think that means that essentially for the last at least two or three months of this election we've had republicans making the case that the obama agenda has failed and other than the president himself, not a lot of democrats loudly refuting that. i think he's going to come out of this election in a rather deep hole in terms of public perception of what the impact of his agenda has been over the past few years, with a lot of ground to make up. whether that's a repudiation or referendum on him, i think t.s.a. reality that he faces -- i think it is a reality that he
faces. the share of americans who want the health care bill to be repealed is going up. i think that's in part because republicans are saying repeal it and you're not hearing democrats loudly defending it. >> a two-part question that's dangerous, it's one thing for us to talk about this. does the president, since you just talked to him days ago, does he view this election as a referendum on him and to those democrats who running away from everything they have in fact accomplished in these first two years, is that cowardess, political convenience or something else? >> well, they would argue it's political necessity. basically what they argue is that a time when we're looking at 3/4 of the country saying america is on the wrong track, it is kind of suicide to go out there and say, we have made things better. they feel there's just no backdrop for doing that. the whole democratic plan for the election was enough economic growth in twhean they could make the case that, look, yeah, things are not perfect yet, but we've turned the corner, we're beginning to
climb out of the difficult. do you want to go back? that's the message that the president is still oo using but the vast majority of candidates have abandoned it because they feel the back drop isn't there for. it you can't really make the case to voters that things are getting better because they don't feel it. the president himself as i said, i mean, i think he seems very level about what is going to happen. he struck me as man who is just accepting the reality that he's going to be dealt a very different hand and is beginning to think in his systemic way about how he responds to it. if the question is, you know, what happened in 1994 shook bill clinton to the core and led him to reassess his presidency in very fundamental way, took radical steps, brought in new political advisors. you do not get the sense from anything that the president obama has said or done so far that is he looking at that kind of fundamental re-examination. look at the two big personnel decisions he's had.
he's elevated people. there's nothing yet that says he sees this as such a fundamental threat that he needs to kind of reassess in a basic way what he's doing. democrats who ask after this election, is it possible to be too calm and collected in the face of catastrophe? they may want a little more urgency and reassessment. tavis: i'm certain of one thing. whatever happens tomorrow, we will be talking to ron brownstein in the coming days about what happens tomorrow. so thanks for coming on and thanks for sharing your insights. >> thank you. tavis: up next, acclaimed haitian-born writer edwidge bant cat. stay with us. -- danticat. stay with us. edwidge danticat is an award-winning haitian author. her latest is called "create dangerously." the immigrant author at work. it's based on the lecture series by tony morrison.
good to have you on the program. >> thank you for having me again. tavis: i'm glad to have you back again. i know something of course of this lecture series because it's so renowned at princeton and it's an honor to be asked to be the tony morrison lecturer at this series. so tell me how you went about deciding what your series of lectures were going to be about for the tony moison lectures. >> well, first of all it was an extraordinary honor and for a year, the year think a knew i was going to do it, i was terrified. because i was bookended between the cornell west and mayor buicker of newark. they had done the lecture. but i went over many things think a wanted to talk about and one of the things that intrigued me was creation, that art of creativity. and writers that i loved in haiti who had dangerously in very difficult times. tell me about this title which
i love. one of the last lectures he gave in 1957, the great french algerian writer, he talks about art and he says that art is not a monologue. he talks about we should all be free there creating art but sometimes art is part of a greater collective. he gives the example of being -- if you're on the slave galies, you're on one of those middle passage shim, do you talk about what's happening on deck or do you sbing the consolations? if you're in the conceal -- colosseum, do you talk about the conversation on the stands or do you talk about the lion crunching the victim? and the way you can talk about both, both reacts, so it takes off on his idea of how writers create, but also -- and i brought in my part, how you create asen immigrant writer. tavis: to your point and i'm glad you went there, is a there a difference in how an american-born artist works versus as the subtitle
suggests, an immigrant artist at work? >> probably very little. because i think artists are always looking for freedom. to be able to create you have to have peace of mind on some level. but there are places, of course, art is a luxury. but also a necessity. and in the luxury, he talks about where depending on what's happening and the interesting times in the society that you live in, but ultimately i think all artists are looking for a subject or sometimes unsure of their subject. but immigrant artists bring another culture to that and they bring us to the place where the original culture meets the new culture. so part of -- not everybody who is an immigrant who is an artist chooses that kind of subject but all of that merges in who you are as a person and the type of work that you might create. tavis: you think that gift is still appreciated, welcomed by the american people or is it
becoming increasingly underappreciated and for that matter infringed upon? >> well, i think, you know, a lot of the literature, there's a whole rich slough of immigrant literature that is increased, that's sort of enriched american literature. so this is supposed to be the land of immigrants. tavis: it's supposed to be. >> well, i mean, recently, you know, so there's richness in subject. the conflict him that grants are facing, because as soon as we're in difficult economic times you have the blaming of immigrants and it's hard and uncomfortable but it's also rich subject matr for artists and writers. tavis: you describe art as both a luxury and a necessity. what do you mean by that? >> well, it's necessity. the way i grew up in haiti, it
was a necessity. it's all around. people breathe. the lottery stand is covered in art. the transportation trucks we take in haiti is covered in art. and in a way i sort of grew up feeling like art was another way besides breathing that we let the world, that we let people know that we're alive. but it's a luxury. it's sometimes a deceptive luxury. it's a luxury in that we have -- you have to have time, you have to, you know, that's probably why a lot of immigrant families it takes another generation for you to have an artist in the family. because the first generation is -- especially if they come from economically disadvantaged situations, they're all about vifrle and getting along. so for me to become an artist, especially in my situation, my parent zts struggling and allowed me the time and the freedom to be able to sit home in a room all day and try to write books. >> tell me more, for those who know about your work, tell me
more about your journey to being the celebrated genius award winning author that you are now. >> well, the last time i was with you we talked about this, too. i feel like i'm an accident of literacy. i come from a family of modest means in haiti. i moved here when i was 12. and i started -- i loved stories. i grew up in a story telling family. i listened to stories. when i started reading i thought, this is what i wanted to do. and even though i tried to be a nurse when i graduated from high school, you know, when i was thinking about college, but i always knew i wanted to write. that was the passion of my life. i loved book, i love reading. and i love stories. and i'm lucky in that i also have a passionate subject in haiti and my connections there. so haiti is the subject of the book. tavis: what is there for those
of us stateside to learn from your work that is so haiti-centric? >> i think there's a lot that we can learn stateside about haiti outside of my work even. in the united states, you know, haiti and the united states were the first republics in this hemisphere. pretty much started around the same time. have a common history that have merged over the years. with the united states coming in and out of haiti and of course now a lot of haitian immigrants living here in the united states. what i hope people learn from my work and what i hope they go seeking in other work is that there's also beauty in haiti. i think people often see the news, the tragedies, that there's great beauty and the physical landscape, despite the destruction that we've seen in port-au-prince, the beauty outside of purity prince, there's a great strength in the people, there's very ar tiities tick beauty, there's great music and art. there's great literature.
this is what i hope that when people see my work or they see the work of other haitian artists, it makes them curious and interested in that other haiti. tavis: to your point now about what we tend to think of when we think of haiti, what we hear about haiti all the time, the destruction and the devastation , i asked this question of someone on this program some time ago, after the earthquake, and i want to ask it of you now, to your earlier point, a lot has happened in haiti since you were last on this program. and now we have this cholera outbreak that we're trying to contain in haiti. and the question is and was, if i were a cynic, i could argue that the gods, that the cosmos is aligned against this country ever becoming everything that it can be. if i were a cynic. i could argue that. i am not. but your thoughts about that? >> well, there's such spirituality in haiti and people who are actually facing
this and i'm sure that this occurs to some people there too because it seems one tragedy after another. but there are reasons for it, of course. there's history, there's the environmental devastation that preceded all the things that's followed and you're right, we currently have the cholera. but it's something that had been foreseen on some level and that since the earthquake happened. but i suppose if you can think of an upside to sort of a spiral like this, you can think, ok, no it can't get worse anymore. so now there's possibilities, hopefully for it to get a little better. because you're right. there's a great deal of suffering and we can't sit here and pretend that there's something like 1 1/2 million people on the streets who are vulnerable to the weather, to disease. so people are still -- it's still a state of emergency almost as much as it was on january 12 when the earthquake happened.
tavis: what does all this say to you about the spirit and the strength of the haitian spirit? of the haitian people, rather? >> it's extraordinary. it's extraordinary. i've been there a couple of times to see family and friends and others. it's extraordinary and people talk often about the resilience of haitians and it's become almost a cliche. and i think in part it's because it is so true. i'm always worried, though, that as we talk more about resilience, that people mistake that for complacency. that they think that these people are able to suffer more than other people. but it's an extraordinary sense of survival that is also born out of community. because people -- and it's a story that we don't see often. people really help one another. after the earthquake happened, when i couldn't reach relatives and finally when i was able to reach them, they would say, so -- people helped them, their neighbors helped them and the first rescuers were haitians
who drug their neighbors out of the rubble with hammers and their bare hands. there is a sense of community also that helped people overcome. it's not thrived but at least survive up to this point. tavis: what do we do, again, back to your formulation, to make sure that that resill yens, that superresilience doesn't become complacency? >> i don't think it can become complacency because it's so urgent for the people involved. people are very patient and they're waiting for the corner to turn. they're waiting for some things to get better. what we can do is to empower the people on the ground because we've had on smaller scales before disasters informant past where people, once they have an opportunity, once they are giving something, they can help themselves and we can learn from what people have survived these hurricanes and these floods before, how they restored it. i think the point is to empower
people, give them ways to help themselves. ultimately they will have tonight ones to rebuild the country, to sustain it and to continue its existence. tavis: the haitian people have nothing else, so many of them are regular people, wonderful, everyday people. i close on this note. these tony morrison lectures at princeton can be, are in fact, i say this lovingly and earnestly, it's pretty high brow. when are you asked by your own admission, you're intimidated a year ahead of time when you're the person selected to give the lectures at princeton. it's pretty high brow stuff. what's the take-away from this new text? >> i think everyday people will get a lot out of it. you'll learn a lot about hart and haiti and resilience and there's a lot about some personal stories and it's entertaining. high brow can be entertaining. do you high brow.
[laughter] tavis: no, i'm very low brow. i'll take that compliment, though. edwidge danticat. the book comes forth from the tony morrison lectures at princeton. a great text and as always, great to have you on this program. >> thank you for having me. tavis: my pleasure. that's our show for tonight. catch me on the weekends on public radio international. you can access our radio podcast at pbs.org and i'll see you back here next time on pbs. until then, good night from los angeles, thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi. join me next time for a conversation with actress felicia rashad on the new film "for colored girls." that's next time. we'll see you then. >> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra help with his reading.
>> i'm jails. -- james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. we have question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy. and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.